Posts from the ‘horseback riding’ Category

Discretion is the Better Part of Valor

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When the sun rose over my toes Sunday morning, I threw open the shutters and windows to be serenaded  by a marching band, heralding the course of the GO! St. Louis Marathon. I like brass bellowing through my neighborhood, I thought, especially if this happens only one, not every, Spring dawn. Stirred, I took breakfast to the deck, and was disheartened that the strains of the brass band were soon followed by sirens of emergency vehicles, lots of sirens. With 19,000 registered participants, certainly some bodies were going to be over-stressed, I thought, sadly.

Breakfast downed, news read, breeches donned, and tack packed, I motored cautiously around, over, and under the securely cordoned Marathon route…to ‘da barn. Through open windows, the air was heavy with humidity and the trar thermometer read 75F still before 9am. Only two weeks earlier, we were slogging through afternoon snows! The weather has changed…too fast.

Sunday was a riding, rather than teaching, day.  The footing of the outdoor court was perfect…moisture content just right. The first horse loosened easily, and confidently bent and stretched into even contact all around. But after a mere 20 minutes of his usual warm-up, this horse was wringing wet, head to tail. Not lathered, not panting, not the least distressed, but wringing, soaking wet, all over, for the first time in maybe 6 months. And so was I.

During what was intended as a walk interlude preceding “the work” we caught our breaths easily enough, but only got wetter. It occurred to me that maybe the warm-up was all this horse needed to help him become acclimated to summer!  So out we went for 20 minutes of trail walk. Untacking, I noted that the saddle pads were soaked through and that his bandages were sopping wet. This horse had sweat profusely, from unusually light exercise. So he was sipped out, showered, hosed, and set fair.

I myself drank quite a lot of water, and ate a sandwich, en route the next rides.

Only for the next horse to become totally drenched in about 15 minutes of exercise. And so the next. These guys got only their warm ups, and long walk-downs, showers and rubs. The barn thermometer registered 90F in the shade.

Back in town that evening, I read that the Marathon had been curtailed by prudent organizers. Due to heat and humidity, at 9:15 am, only runners who had passed the 9 mile marker were permitted to complete the full Marathon course; all others were diverted to a Half-Marathon course at the very spot where I had heard the marching band.  Many participants had been taken to hospital for emergency treatment, many dropped out, and many more were observed and treated at the finish line.  Nobody died.  A runner commented, “We trained in snow, but competed in a sauna.”

“Discretion is the better part of valor,” I consoled myself.

Today, Tuesday, back in the saddle, the air was WILD! dry, and crisp, if pollen-laden.  The warm-ups were solid. The focus of the lesson for one was canter-walk-canter transitions, preparatory to improving flying changes. For another, the work was trot shoulder-in to trot half pass to trot shoulder-in, encouraging the horse to respond to a mere change of the position of this rider’s seat bones. And for the third, the accent in the walk interlude was maintaining rhythm and activity into and out of, first, one, and then two walk pirouette steps toward achieving, on coming days, an excellent walk half-pirouette. His ‘work’ was longitudinal contracting and stretching, working trot to collected trot to working trot to medium trot  and repeat after change of direction. And the correlative exercise at canter.  I am pleased that they are all getting stronger.

And so we proceed, one day at a time.

Surf’s Up!

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Waiting for the sun to rise, I surfed into this sumptuous promo. Thinking past the medium as message, the horsemanship is magnificent.

ThunderSnow and Dressage Priorities: Conservation First!

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It’s the end of March, and here, near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, Mother Nature is playing one of her seldom seen, much less heard, compositions: thunder-snow pelting flowering trees and blooming spring perennials. The horses have already shed much of their winter coats, so they are snugged into insulated rugs, windows open, and resigned to indoor games. We’ve had only two days of agreeable outdoor footing all month, which we celebrated, modestly. But today, as big dry flakes rapidly changed to heavy wet glop, accompanied by drum rolls, I thought better of trekking, tacked, from stable block to the disquiet indoor gym. Instead, I gave each of the boys a twenty minute hand walk straightway the 50 meter asphalt paved stable aisle, with  half-pirouettes at each end, and a few halt/step-back/walk exercises at about the 15 minute marker. Followed by grooming and strategic massages, before re-rugging.

Boring though this could be for me, the horses swing into it and lull themselves into stretching forward and down on a long cotton lead, encouraged by my voice. Therapized by the half-pirouettes, they voluntarily lengthen their walks into straight balanced over-strides, and seem to listen to the rhythms of their hoofbeats on the pavement.

To break the monotony for myself, I sing songs that synch with the rhythms of the hoofbeats, and let the horses play games with me. Today, the clown I fondly call “The Jack Russel Terrier model of the American Thoroughbred” nipped at me between songs, and also when my footfalls were out of synch with his front feet. And he nips like he means it, so I have to be fairly alert.

Walking, my mind wandered to the book with which I slept last night. I truly admire Charles deKunffy’s 1992 The Athletic Development of the Dressage Horse, Manege Patterns, refer to it often, and re-read it cyclically. I had reached for it to review deKunffy’s suggestions for canter development patterns, but decided to read again his first chapters, which so succinctly crystallize the essence of classical horsemanship.The first sentence of the first chapter is “Dressage goals, simply stated, include all training activities that prolong the working life and serviceability of the majority of horses”.

 Soon enough he states “…the logical goal of all classical equitation: to explore and unfold the nature-given potentialities of each horse to its fullest….our ideals are not fully attainable, only approachable. Horsemanship is not an art for those who wish to ‘arrive.’ It is rather an art in which the process of creating is fulfilling….one merely strives, never arrives.”

Every horse with whom I have had the long-term relationship has validated deK’s points, and such horses, my schoolmasters, heighten my awareness that for each horse, with whom I have a short-term relationship, I can only facilitate progress, rather than to achieve “the goal.”

Walking, currying, and massaging the ‘boys’ as the snow fell, I continued to reflect on dressage ethics.  I recalled that in one of deKunffy’s books he states that the priorities of dressage are rehabilitation, therapy and training.  In Athletic Development, deK  implies that the priorities of dressage are conservation of  natural abilities resulting from hereditary conformation and temperament,  rehabilitation of abilities and temperament when they have been compromised by injury or environment, therapy including exercises that promote ‘ambidexterity’ and ‘straightness’  and athletic training for the amplification of authentically natural equine motion.

So, I consoled myself, while hand walking and massaging the day away did not make progress, it did conserve the horses’ health and temperaments, and did promote their soundness (walking on pavement strengthens their tendons and ligaments, we know).

All things considered, I’d have rather gone for trail rides. Those days will come, and we will be ready to enjoy them. Meanwhile, during the puddlewonderful days of April, I’ll read deKunffy again, and resist practicing those oh-so sophisticated amplification exercises until the rehab and therapy processes are complete.

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Another ride, another game

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It’s way too sloppy out doors to trail ride, darnit. So, again in the big gym, today’s work, with the same advancing medium horse, was quite different.

Using a similarly styled warm-up as previously, it took a little longer to make even contact, and really swing into trot. But when he did, it was big and loose. Canter was immediately wonderfully active, at once buoyant, and uphill.
To take advantage of this, I inscribed many changes of direction using long and short diagonals, serpentines, half circles and half circles in reverse carefully planning them such that, although I did frequent changes of lead, I did them at points along the figure that the horse did not anticipate, and I focused myself on influencing him to be straight and uphill in strides before, during and after the changes. Today, I did not ask for any lateral canter work. We did only canter figures for four or five minutes, during which he maintained his buoyancy.

Then, without a walk interlude, we began trot work that included a very forward, rhythmic, up-tempo shoulder in, which I let collect itself through half-pass, (but never felt to cadence into passage) then long straight lines transitioning from medium to collected and repeat, focusing on the quality of the transitions.

Then a walk interlude with a pair of pirouettes, and a schakule of 3-5-7-9 as described before, followed by a spectrum of walks through which I was conscious of the rhythm but focused on the transitions between the walks and the horse’s taking the reins forward and down smoothly and raising his forehand supply in response to my shortening the reins. This needs more practice…I’ll include more of it in this horse’s work over the next few weeks.

Already partially warmed down by the walk work, but still quite interested in continuing, I resumed trot without stirrups and did the SI-circle-HP down the long walls in the style of Prix St George Test. But felt that the horse had become so buoyant that my sitting without stirrups was more impeding than facilitating his balance. Fact is, I could barely get back to the saddle during HP right. So I picked up the stirrups and repeated in both directions, with improvement.

Pressing on, I again asked for the medium to collected to medium to collected, but added a few steps of piaffe, then medium to collected, to a few more steps of piaffe, the forward into large circled of forward and down trot rising, then walk. Soon dismounting, responding to the head butting and foam flipping by rubbing his head and praising him. Although he was not steamy of breathing hads, I leading the horse about the room for several minutes before returning to the stable.

I am fortunate that all my rides this winter are boxed, traced, and rugged. Tomorrow, I am going on a muscle spasm hunt while giving this horse a thorough massage.

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